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MapQuest turns fifteen

MapQuest, the Denver-based online mapping service, will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary on April 25 with a ritzy, VIP-studded event at its new LoDo headquarters (Need directions? You know what to do.) But getting directions from MapQuest, Google Maps or your GPS device can be, uh, hit-or-miss. Here is a roundup of some of the worst computer directions ever.

Ferry funny

GPS devices can be useful in a bind, such as directing you to a nearby gas station if you're running low on fuel. Unfortunately, such suggestions can lead to more trouble than they're worth. Take the example of a woman who needed to find a gas station to fill up her rental car. "As is often the case, there were no gas stations near the airport. We used the GPS to search for nearby stations. There was one a few miles away. Good news, right? Not exactly. We went down a narrow, winding road through the woods and came to a road by the river. Then we went along the river for about a mile. Then the nice woman on the GPS said: 'Take ferry across river.' There was a ferry there, all right. And it probably led to a gas station. But we opted to go back up a different narrow, windy road and finally found an Exxon.

"Take a left at the oncoming train"

A California man once steered his rental car onto some railroad tracks in Bedford, New York, based on the computer-generated directions. After getting his vehicle stuck on the rails, the man abandoned his car — leading to a fiery crash with a commuter train that stranded riders for hours. A similar thing happened to a woman in England, who luckily got out of her car when her GPS stranded her wheels on some tracks, leading the gizmo — and much of her car — to a violent end.

Village idiots

The British countryside is full of charming little villages featuring winding, cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways. It's the stuff of picturesque vacations — and also a GPS device's nightmare. The villagers of Wedmore, for example, became used to seeing tractor trailers toppling fences, shearing off side mirrors and, one time, dragging a helpless passenger car in its wake thanks to GPS devices directing those big-rig drivers through the little hamlet. And things got so bad in the village of Exton that official signs went up outside of the town warning drivers not to heed satellite directions.

All wet

In an episode of NBC's The Office, bumbling branch manager Michael Scott drives his car into a lake on the advice of his GPS system. Turns out the escapade was based on real-life events. In 2006, the British village of Luckington became the scene of numerous watery accidents when drivers following GPS directions over a town bridge failed to notice the bridge was missing because of a construction project.

None of these tales are funny to those involved, but at least Google Maps has a sense of humor about directions. Lots of folks have noticed a quirky Easter egg hidden in the service which gives suggestions like "kayak across the ocean" if you ask for directions from California to China.

MapQuest doesn't have the same feature — but then, the mapping company has been falling behind Google Maps anyway. Perhaps they could take some direction from us and lighten up on their birthday.

Scene and herd: That Michael Scott is busy. Now that there's a new boss on The Office, he's been talking about moving to Colorado — which inspired an April Fool's release from Governor John Hickenlooper's office that he was taking a job as Director of Paper Distribution in the Department of Natural Resources. But come to think of it, that wouldn't be an entirely crazy way to end the show, if The Office's writers are looking for one last storyline. And Scott would definitely be a fine addition to the Hickenlooper appointees bunking at the Governor's Mansion.

 
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